The Kitchen is Off-Limits

The Kitchen is Off-Limits

If I had to choose one nutrition tip that would offer the most positive change in a household, I would say to make the kitchen off-limits most of the time. This model is new to many parents, so I’ll explain why having an open kitchen may lead to problems and why closing the kitchen can help your children to become more competent eaters.

The drawbacks of grazing
Between short attention spans and after-school craziness, many families allow their children to “graze” between meals instead of planning snacks. Besides being hard on the carpets, there are several other reasons that grazing can be detrimental to your child’s development.

On-the-go eating and drinking dampens our body’s natural cues. Allowing on-the-go eating and drinking (except water) will keep your child from becoming a competent eater and his nutrition will suffer. If your child is eating steadily all afternoon, he will have trouble listening to his internal cues of hunger and fullness so may eat too little and grow too slowly or eat to much and grow too fast. He will not be hungry when it is mealtime so will eat and behave poorly. It will be harder for him to sneak up on new or more challenging foods because he won’t have hunger to motivate him to eat.

Easy-to-Carry equals Less Nutritional Variety. If your child is routinely grabbing easy-to-carry snacks from the kitchen, she is also likely to be missing out on nutritional variety. Common snack foods are easy to eat and taste good, so she will be less likely to be interested in trying new foods at meals when she can fill up on less challenging foods whenever she wants.

Sipping Beverages Damages Teeth and Appetites. Don’t forget about the damage drinks can do to appetite and dental health when children are sipping all day long. Drinks that contain natural and processed sugar, anything from juice to milk to soda, can lead to dental caries when children are constantly bathing their teeth in the liquid. Calorie-containing beverages can also fill little bellies so they are not hungry and ready to eat at the next meal or snack time.

Structured eating times lead to success
A better method for feeding your family between meals is to plan sit-down snacks at predictable times.

Plan sit-down snacks. Let your child arrive at the next meal hungry and ready to eat. Assure your child he can eat as much as he wants during the meal or snack time, but that after the meal or snack is over there will be no more food until the next eating opportunity.

Be Predictable. Planning meals and snacks to occur at predictable times of the day is key to the success of this method. If you wait until your child is hungry and griping to prepare a snack you are more likely to grab the easiest option. Parents can also unwittingly cause a feeling of stress for their children when they wait until the child asks before providing a snack. Even in households with adequate access to food, when children don’t have reliably timed meals and snacks they may develop a feeling of anxiety around when they will next be able to eat. This may cause them to overeat to compensate.

Create routines and time limits for eating. If you’re worried your child does not eat enough at his meals to grow properly, structured snacks are the answer. Instead of dragging on a meal until everyone is frustrated, you can say, “that’s it for now, snack will be here soon.” Structured snacks allow you to tell your school-age child, “Lunch will be over soon. Make sure you eat enough to last until your snack in a few hours.” Once your child gets used to this new routine he will adjust his eating to accommodate. The relationship between parents feeding and children eating is based on trust – parents trust their children to eat enough during the eating window and children trust their parents to provide meals for them to regularly eat.

Establish a 2-hour gap between after-school snacks and dinner. School-age children often come home from school famished and wanting to eat constantly until dinner. Teach your child to sit down for a snack when she gets home. Take the time to sit with her to hear about her day. As she gets older you can allow her to be more in charge. Tell her, “Eat your snack by such-and-such time (not less than 2 hours until dinner). After that, nothing until dinner.”

One of life’s great pleasures
Instituting a policy in your home that plans sit-down meals and snacks and makes the kitchen off-limits between those times will allow your family to truly relax around food. Structure keeps food as one of life’s great pleasures. Pay attention and enjoy it while it’s there, but then move on and enjoy other things.

The Kitchen is Off-Limits
Andra Sylvanus, MS, RD, LDN

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